By Maghan Hunt, Northern Regional Compliance Manager
California’s fairs can be difficult navigate. What are the force account limits? Do all the fairs have to follow the same rules? What’s the difference between a state owned fair and a county owned fair? Many of the answers are cut and dry, while some are in a grey area.
In 2012, California’s budget shortfalls meant fairs didn’t receive any public funds to maintain facilities, build new facilities, or run day-to-day operations. This decision came on the heels of a 2009 decision to take the money fairs received from horse racing license fees, and put the money in the general fund. In 2016, all that changed. California began giving the fair districts money again, but many new CEOs are unaware they have to follow the public contract code.
There are 77 fairs overseen by the California Department of Agriculture’s Fair and Expositions Division. Amongst those 77 fairs are 54 District Agricultural Associations that are part of the state of California’s fair network. The other fairs are considered county owned.
A county with a fair that is a District Agricultural Association has a force account limit of $25,000. Once a project exceeds that limit, it must be put out to bid. From there, everything follows public contract code.
For county owned fairs, things are different. They still have to follow public contract code, but it depends on the organization that the county has contracted to run the fairgrounds for them. Many of these county owned fairs use a non-profit fair association to handle the day to day operations and any construction projects. If the non-profit runs everything, then it doesn’t matter if they received public funds because the non-profits are exempted from following public contract code.
The county could have language in the agreement with the fair board on when a project needs to be sent out to bid, but it becomes difficult to enforce certain areas of the public contract code when it’s a non-profit agency. As always, if you feel any agency isn’t in compliance with public contract code, feel free to reach out to a compliance manager with CIFAC.